Questions from the first two days of the 2018 Winter Olympics

Over the first two days of the 2018 Winter Olympics, I got a bunch of questions:

  • How good should we feel about North and South Korea marching and competing together?
  • Why is the Korean Women’s Hockey team wearing more visible shin guards than the Swiss team?
  • What’s up with athletes wearing tape on their faces?
  • Is mixed doubles curling really a thing? Why does gender matter in curling at all?

I love getting questions! Keep sending them, please!

How good should we feel about North and South Korea marching and competing together?

Eh… one never really knows when it comes to war and peace and geopolitical affairs… but probably not all that good. Yes, it’s amazing to see athletes wearing a uniform that shows the entirety of the Korean peninsula on it and to imagine what this might mean to Korean communities or families that have endured a 50+ year militarized split.  On the other hand, as I learned in Uri Friedman’s excellent article on this topic for the Atlantic, this is not the first time North and South Korea have come together for the Olympics. Actually, it’s the ninth time it’s happened since 2000. This dims my hope for the symbolic gesture to turn into something more meaningful when the games are over. My thoughts are drawn back four years to Sochi – a time of relative peace in Russia – followed almost immediately by a semi-covert invasion of Ukraine when the games were done. If there’s even a slim chance that some good will come of it, it’s still probably worth it, but it does feel particularly unfair to the South Korean hockey teams whose team chemistry has been interrupted by the political injection of North Korean players just a few weeks before the biggest tournament of their lives.

Why is the Korean Women’s Hockey team wearing more visible shin guards than the Swiss team?

Aha! I was not the only one watching the Korean women’s team get their tournament started with an 8-0 loss to Switzerland. In ice hockey some defenders who specialize in blocking shots do wear bulkier shin guards than other players. Cheaper shin guards also tend to be bigger than more expensive ones. In this case though, I think you were fooled by an optical illusion caused by a design choice made by whoever designed the Korean uniforms. I think you were seeing a vertical white line on the Korean socks, not their shin guards. The Swiss team wore a more traditional horizontal stripe.

What’s up with athletes wearing tape on their faces?

I know, right?

Czech Republic’s Marketa Davidova competes in the women’s 7,5 km sprint biathlon event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 10, 2018, in Pyeongchang. / AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSENODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Apparently, according to Tara Parker-Pope in her article for the New York Times, this is something athletes are doing to try to stay warm. This is the first Winter Olympics in a while that’s actually, you know, cold. So, we’re seeing Olympic teams doing all kinds of things to try to get an edge. This includes breathing through a “respiratory heat exchanger,” wearing electric coats, and taping, or more traditionally greasing, up any exposed skin, including faces. It may not be the most telegenic tactic but if it helps, you know it’s going to be popular!

Is mixed doubles curling really a thing? Why does gender matter in curling at all?

Okay, fine, I’ll admit it. I asked this question on Facebook and got a bunch of responses from friends. It was an excellent turn of the tables compared to my normal mode when it comes to questions about sports. A Facebook friend linked me to Liz Clarke’s Washington Post article, “In Olympic Curling, men and women are not created equal.” Clarke, who I am 100% confident approached this subject from a position of great skepticism, included this infuriating quote from “Kyle Paquette, director of sports science for Curling Canada”:

It’s not simply that Canada’s top male skips (the chief strategist of a curling team) are more aggressive play callers than the top female skips. The difference is more nuanced, according to [Paquette,] suggesting to some that top male curling skips may see angles better and anticipate three or four shots ahead better than their female counterparts.

Oh, really? Men are just naturally better tacticians, huh? We must be genetically selected for it after all those millennia of throwing rocks at each other, right? Aghghghhhghhh! You don’t think that maybe it has something to do with boys being given more encouragement, more practice time, better coaches, better equipment, and greater rewards for success from a very early age? Director of sports science? How do I get that job?


Hope you have a wonderful Olympics-filled Sunday. Keep the questions coming!

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

How to sound smart during the Winter Olympics: Curling

Curling is the thinking person’s Olympics sport. Whenever I see one of the many uncomfortably leering stories about how the Olympic Village is a colossal orgy of the most athletic young people on the planet, I always chuckle to myself and think about the curlers. Olympic curlers tend to be unassuming people entering the middle of their careers… as lawyers. Lack of voyeurism aside, there is a lot to love about curling! So much, that I found it hard to pick a single detail to focus on. Instead, here are two fun things to watch for.

This post is one in a series of posts about the Winter Olympics that arm the casual viewer with a single tactic to sound smart while watching each event. Focusing on these details may also make your viewing experience more enjoyable!

The Fourth Curler

There are four curlers on a team. Three of them are actively doing something on any given shot. One curler “delivers” or slides the stone along the ice. This person is the center of focus on television, being the one who starts out touching the stone and then usually slides for a while looking pleased or tormented. Two other people on the team sweep brooms furiously in front of the stone as it slides down the rink toward the bullseye shaped target called a house. The fourth curler… well, if you’re not watching carefully, you might miss them entirely. They don’t actually do anything during the shot except for yell, and it’s hard to tell who is doing what yelling. If you watch right before the shot starts though, you will see this fourth curler, who is hanging out near the house, place their broom on the ice. They are setting the target for the curler delivering the stone. It’s not where the stone will end up, it’s the direction the stone will be thrown in. Any deviation from this path is based on all that frantic sweeping.

Given that this is the Olympics, the person delivering the stone is going to hit the target 95% of the time and you can bet the sweepers will sweep precisely the way they are supposed to sweep. So, if we assume all that proper execution, it’s actually the person who decides where their team should aim that’s making all the interesting decisions. This fourth curler is worth watching!

Happy Feet

The most astounding aspect of curling is how the two sweepers are able to navigate through the target area without ever touching an already thrown stone. The next time you watch curling, focus on the sweeper’s feet. Notice how she nimbly steps over or around any stone in her path. She doesn’t break stride and her sweeping is seemingly not affected by her evasive maneuvering at all. And what’s more, she never seems to look down at all! It’s incredible!

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer